Novel Synopsis and Sample
Coming in 2021 from Unsolicited Press.
Set in the Vietnam era, Lucky Ride tells the story of a recent veteran, an unraveling marriage, and a hitchhiking trip steeped in hippie optimism, post-war skepticism, and drug-induced fantasy.
When his friend Rick shows up in Binghamton, New York, with an interstate weed delivery, Flash leaps at the chance to escape his wife Ronnie’s affair with her middle-aged boss. He joins Rick on a speed fueled drive to Fort Worth, dodging a highway stalker and recalling his military service on Adak, a desolate cold war outpost where Seabees bravely defended their country with marijuana and LSD. Hitchhiking west from Fort Worth, Flash confronts Texas Rangers, amorous witches, armed felons, and good Samaritans, all offering advice and misdirection. But his dreams of starting fresh in California recede like a spent wave, his money gone and no chance of a job. Ronnie offers reconciliation and Flash must decide if he still trusts the seductive pull of the irresistible campus radical he married before the draft descended on their lives.
Here is the first chapter.
No sooner did I decide to hitchhike to California than I got a surprise call from Rick Gardiner, one of my buddies from the Navy. He had just delivered a load of Mexican marijuana to Boston, and he would swing through Binghamton in a few days. Did he want company on his drive back to Fort Worth? You bet. Hanging up the phone, I was already gone, off on my first lucky ride, a thousand miles of interstate from my wife Ronnie’s affair with her boss.
Rick pulled up in front of our apartment, the top floor of a rundown triplex, on a Wednesday evening. The family of Jesus freaks who lived below us was already asleep, but I saw Grandma Roller peeking through her bedroom curtains when I went to help him unload. There was not much to witness that night: just Rick in his blue jeans, unbuttoned white shirt, three empty Coke cans in one hand, and his wild blonde hair flopping over his John Lennon glasses and scruffy beard. He leaned over the trunk and dragged out his Navy issue duffel bag stuffed with marijuana and dirty laundry.
The hood of his old ’64 Ford steamed under the streetlamp, its red paint flaked off from the heat, revealing the gray primer underneath as if it had driven through licks of fire. I listened to faint cracks of metal and escaping air as the huge machine began to cool. With hot forged steel, thick joints and beams, the car was built to drive all night long. Rick could tell I was ready to leave right then, but he wanted a bed and a smoke. We were quiet, not to wake the neighbors, but we shook hands and hugged like brothers, spilling his Coke cans onto the soggy lawn. One of the things that always impressed me about Rick was how he could chug a Coke with one gulp and ask for another, his one bigger‑than‑life Texas habit.
“Hey Flash, good to see you out of the suck,” he said.
My friends called me Flash because of my uncanny good luck and because I was often slow to make decisions. I liked to check all the angles as if my life were plotted on one vast astronomy chart. Rick glanced up at the porch.
“Ronnie’s working late, but she’ll be home soon.”
Rick and I retreated to the rusty kitchen table, eating ginger snap cookies, and drinking a pot of deep black coffee brewed in the electric percolator, our only luxury and purchased at a discount from my dad’s company store. I retrieved a jar of Tang from the cupboard.
“Remember all that Tang we drank when we were stoned?” Rick asked, helping himself and recalling the time we were stationed together on Adak in the remote Aleutian Islands.
“The official beverage of astronauts.” I stirred a heaping spoonful into a jelly glass and downed it, smacking my lips.
Clearing space on the table, I lined up baggies in front of my chemist’s scale while Rick retrieved my pound of Mexican from his duffle bag.
“How about $105?” he asked. “My Seabee discount.”
“The best GI benefit,” I nodded, calculating how I could sell ounces for twenty and finance my trip with the proceeds.
We dumped the pound out of a large freezer bag and admired the brick’s silver rectangular shape, a loaf of dope wound in duct tape. I tore off the tape. The weed had an earthy smell, one tangled dark mass with flecks of mold. We broke up the clumps and threw away the big sticks – some of them as thick as pencils – and most of the seeds. We made sure each ounce was equal and a good count. The pound weighed out 15 1/2 ounces. Not bad for a Mafia score.
“I’ll make up the difference,” Rick said. “It’s not like I’m short of dope.”
“Nah, we’ll probably smoke the difference before we hit Texas.”
Rick rolled a joint from his private stash of well over a pound of sifted marijuana packed in a plastic bag like the one we just emptied, large enough to store a turkey. We assessed the character of Rick’s weed like Ivy Leaguers tasting Daddy’s wine.
“Smokes dry,” Rick said. “Has a nutty taste.”
“Good quality,” I squeaked in my high hit-holding voice.
“No distinctive bouquet.”
When Rick headed for the shower, I took the dog outside. I had liked Bobo better when he was a puppy before Ronnie countermanded all my attempts to train him. She claimed he was a free spirit with all the inherent rights of existence, and it was not our place to discipline him; he should answer to his own being, not what we wanted him to be. He was his own dog.
And ever true to his sense of purpose, he raced for the neighbor’s garbage can as soon as I let him loose. Bobo gathered his momentum and launched himself like a canine Evel Kneival, a small white and black stunt dog, hurling himself over the rim, expertly catching the edge, and tipping the can. Before I caught him, he had torn a hole in the plastic garbage bag and pulled out a chicken carcass that smelled worse than anything I could imagine. He growled and shook it back and forth. I managed to grab his collar and drag him back to the clothesline while I collected the remains of his feast.
I stood up from the pail of garbage and scanned the overcast sky beyond the streetlights, trying to catch a fresh breeze to chase the putrid odor of rotting potatoes, sour coffee grounds, and blackened hamburger packages. Spring was oozing down the hillside, and the wind smelled of dead leaves and wet mud, a mildewed smell. Under the thickest stands of spruce, the dirt was still frozen in an icy crust, though it was the first week of May. The sky never brightened, but it seldom rained, just a dreary intermittent mist changing to snow if the temperature dropped. Only a few buds had cracked on the trees, and the pale, gray branches merged into the gray canopy of sky. I wondered if the trees and flowers would ever bloom.
For our converted triplex, ugly in any season, it was the worst time of year. Without the seasonal blankets of snow or leaves, the old house revealed its poor upkeep. A large farmhouse successively remodeled by generations of handy men, it sprawled up and back from the street like the abandoned shells of a colony of mussels. Green shingles of varying shades from moss to canned spinach covered the roof. Looking over the old farmhouse apartments and the gray sky made me want to leave even more and head south, where it was sure to be warmer and brighter. And then west to the sparkling Pacific.
While I had waited for orders to Alaska, Ronnie and I had lived on the beach in Ventura, where my friend Jack now lived. We spent most nights on the warm sand, watching plankton erupt in neon tubes of blue light and spread across the breakers, only to fade like an idea you cannot quite articulate. The blue would ignite again and spread across the wave and the next like a strange, ethereal presence.
Spying my neighbor’s light, I decided David would be my first sale. I found him lying back in the Lazy Boy recliner he had salvaged from Volunteers. David was about my height and just as thin with a sharply chiseled face and rough complexion. His hands were wide and strong with calluses and blackened scratches from his night job fixing cars. He carried himself with an air of mystery, which had to do with his tour in Vietnam, but he only mentioned it late at night when he might recall the hot mud or the superior smoke. The skinny joints he rolled were holdovers from Southeast Asia, but given the quality of the Mexican marijuana we usually scored in Binghamton, each one was only about as intoxicating as a Camel.
I rolled a thick joint. After a few tokes, David’s expression turned serious. “Ronnie told Janey she’s not happy about your trip.”
I took a hit and held it, shrugging my shoulders. Ronnie and David’s wife Janey were fast friends, closer than David and me.
“She says you’re leaving her with no money.”
“She can take care of herself.” I waved the joint, trying to read David’s blank expression to see how much he knew about Ronnie and her boss Mr. Bardeen skipping lunch most days to rock and roll in the backseat of Bardeen’s family Buick. “So, what about the smoke?”
David was a tough sell, but I knew he would bend. He bought a quarter pound for $60. I rolled another joint to seal the bargain, a thin one this time.
“Seriously, Flash. If Ronnie needs anything, all she has to do is ask. She’ll be up there by herself.”
I paused at the door. “You could help her sell some weed if I don’t sell it all.”
We agreed he could have an ounce in payment if he sold three for Ronnie, and if our old Plymouth broke down, he would fix it for free.
Back in our apartment, Rick and I finished off the pot of coffee, waiting for Ronnie. About eleven, she appeared, clutching a bag of Mother’s Ginger Snaps, my favorite, replenishing our supply. She wore the black cape she had worn since college, which always made her look sexy, hanging down to her thin waist and emphasizing her full breasts and long legs. The tips of her straight, black hair rested on her shoulders, and her bangs had grown long and untrimmed, framing her brown eyes. Tilting her head in the questioning smile she often used, she held out her hand to Rick. Although she appeared athletic, her manner was careless and unpracticed as if she might slip at any moment.
Rick reflexively leaned in her direction as I often did.
My pulse clicked up a beat. This was the old Ronnie, the one I thought of as Ronnie the Rebel, the carefree woman I fell in love with, not the woman who now worried about our impending lack of money once the GI checks ran out. We had one more check coming for the semester, and I would have plenty of time to find a summer job when I came back from California. If I decided to come back.
Ronnie gave Rick’s hand a quick shake. “How much weed did you run to Boston?” she asked.
“About 130 pounds.”
“Wow, such an outlaw.” She pulled off her cape and threw it across a spare chair. Her T-shirt rode up her firm stomach.
“Sold it all too,” Rich stammered, his cheeks reddening.
“Except for your personal stash,” I added.
Ronnie sat side saddle on her chair. “Every man needs a personal stash.” She reached for the pile of weed on yesterday’s sports section and commenced rolling a ceremonial number.
Sitting at the kitchen table with Ronnie and Rick, my memories flowed and mixed. On Adak, Rick and I had spent a series of weekends in the kitchen of an abandoned mess hall, barely standing from World War II, playing our guitars with Jack Ferro and Phil Briones, high on grass and LSD. I remembered how much I had wanted Ronnie with us as we sang our lonely songs, sounding almost perfect like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Now, in our apartment, my dreams should have been answered with Ronnie’s soft voice probing our memories. She waved her hands over the table when she talked as if she were directing my emotions, and I felt mesmerized by her presence despite the hundreds of evenings we had shared.
We left the kitchen for the floor pillows around our wire spool, where Rick and I took turns playing my guitar with Ronnie joining now and again with her electric piano turned low. Grandma Roller didn’t seem to mind our music, and if she did, it served her right for inviting me to sing at their Spirit coffee house, which I never did, and sending up a stream of teenaged Jesus freaks to pray for my soul. If we played for our souls that night none of us played very well, and we soon tired. Ronnie fixed a bed of blankets and sleeping bags on the living room floor for Rick.
When she came to bed, she opened the window. Wisps of her dark hair blew across her brow and back over her head. Her eyes gleamed in the dim halo of the reading lamp.
“You finally met Rick.” I watched her undress.
“He’s the blondest man ever.” She rolled down her pantyhose. “I love his accent. Not twangy like a redneck.”
“Too much time around us Yankees.”
“He reminds me of the Sundance Kid.”
I laughed. “You’re attracted to him.”
“You’re so paranoid.”
I laid back and stared at the stained ceiling.
“You need to work on redirecting your feelings,” Ronnie continued. She was a psychology major before she dropped out of college, and this was her usual diagnosis. During our fights, she said the same thing about my feelings toward Bardeen. She thought I made too much of him, insisting she just felt sorry for him. I never understood how she could pity him and still sleep with him. I did not feel sorry for him in the least. I wondered how long I could repress all the phobias Ronnie had identified, and how long I could keep myself from grabbing him by the throat. I was sick with jealousy and the risk of losing her.
I sat up and reached across the bed, but she slid away, promising a more prolonged hug in a few minutes. She stripped and raced toward the shower, draped only in a tattered beach towel, a remnant of our trip to California after I was released from boot camp. On her way through the living room, she stepped over Rick, who was already asleep, curled up in my Boy Scout sleeping bag.
I traced her footsteps through the apartment, listening to the bathroom door open and close. I heard the shower gush and imagined her stepping lightly over the lip of the tub and swinging her hair back over her sleek shoulders. Something in her artless manner made her irresistible and easy to forgive. This would be our last night together, maybe forever, and my desire for her surged. The nerves beneath my skin tingled for her touch.
She strode into our bedroom, moist and dripping, unwrapped her towel and leapt under the covers. She squirmed close to absorb my body heat. I twisted my arm around her wet hair and shoulders.
“Wow, you’re really going to truck off. I’m jealous.” She sounded like it was the first time she had known my plans.
I shifted my position, so we were lying side by side, facing one another. Her eyes focused in a distant stare as if there were someone else in the room. I glanced around and listened for Bardeen’s middle-aged wheeze. I would never ask if she was thinking about Bardeen, but I knew she was. .
She said, “Please don’t go, Flash. You belong here with me. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said automatically. But it was the truth. I still loved her enough that I would have changed my mind about leaving right then if I thought it would make a difference. “I promised Jack I’d visit him,” I added. It was a hollow excuse, and she knew it.
“I can’t believe you’re going back to Ventura without me,” she said. “Remember how we sat on the beach at night and watched the waves break? Holding each other all night long, wrapped in that scratchy, wool blanket you stole from the barracks? That night we made love so long we were sore, and we could hardly walk back to the apartment? Those two months in Ventura seem like a dream.”
I nodded, wondering how our marriage might have progressed if I had not been ordered to Adak. If I could rerun our marriage, I would keep it there in a warm stasis of ocean, sand, and unquestioned love.
“I think we should have a baby,” she continued as if parenthood was just another detail of her California vision.
“I don’t think we’re ready to have a baby.”
She looked at me. “You’d rather hitchhike to California.”
I shook my head.
She waited for an answer.
“What about Bardeen?” His name shocked her since we seldom said it aloud.
“You’re obsessed with him,” she shot back. “He has nothing to do with this.”
I glanced toward the living room, hoping our voices would not wake Rick. When Ronnie did not answer, I added, “Grandma saw his car the night I took my astronomy exam.”
“That old bitch.”
“So, he was here.” I shook my head, remembering how she had tried to end their relationship several times or at least she said so. Bardeen seemed like the runaway dog on her doorstep, tired and muddy from his ordeal. Bobo in a cheap polyester suit. Ronnie always let him in, and I always let her in. The only way I could break the dizzy cycle was to leave.
“It’s not like you think.” Ronnie forced her voice lower. “He’s just a friend. He understands how I feel about wanting to have a family and wanting to have a real life. He’s someone I can talk to. Whenever I try to talk to you, you think I’m pressuring you to drop out of college and get a job.”
I turned away from her.
“You don’t want to have a real marriage,” she said. “You want us to live like hippies forever.”
“I never said that. I think we should both finish college before we worry about buying a house or having a family. That’s what we always planned.”
“How can we afford tuition for both of us?”
“We’ll make it.” I stroked her cheek. “Hey, I’m lucky, remember? Just like Rick showing up with a ride and a pound of weed to finance my trip. My luck will pull us through.”
“I think you like living like this,” she continued in the same tone.
“Well, I don’t hate it as much as you do. You used to say you didn’t care how we lived as long as we were together.”
“We’re not together. You’re going to California.”
“Why don’t you come with me?”
“You know I can’t just pick up and leave.” She sat up as if she knew what I was going to say. But I would not bring up Bardeen again, even if he was more important to her than her minimum wage job. She faced me. Our tense expressions filled the space of his unspoken name. “If you don’t want to settle down, what’s the point of being married?”
I held her eyes, biting back my anger.
“You should stay in California,” she hissed and flopped back down, pressing her face to the pillow. She started to cry.
“I never said I was coming back.” I was unsure if she heard me.
For a long moment, I lay there thinking I should say something. I touched the back of her head, but she shook me off. I twisted away and lay back down, staring at the ceiling, its paint chips and mold stains appearing like shadows in the dim light of our bed lamp. I wished they were stars, something I could see more clearly, that they might form constellations and help me navigate.
When I finally reached across the blankets to comfort her, unable to resist her crying for long, she accepted my touch, and our bodies wound together like nuclei of the same cell, thin membranes of skin merging. Ronnie clutched my back like she would never let go, and I pressed her to me. Our hearts beat with the same pulse, blood of the same flesh, squeezing out the cold draft from the open window.
As our sweat began to cool, Ronnie drifted off to sleep, her breasts pressed to my chest and her legs intertwined with mine. She whispered into my neck. “Please don’t go.”
I reached over and tucked the blanket more firmly around her, unwilling to get up and close the window.
“We fit together.” Her voice was weak, dreamlike.
I softly stroked her shoulder as she began to snore. “Like a puzzle.”
I lay awake and watched her sleep, wishing I were two men, one who remained by her side and one who tore himself away, heading for warmer climates and an earlier spring.
To be continued….
Lucky Ride is available for preorder from Unsolicited Press: http://www.unsolicitedpress.com/store/p285/Preorder%3A_Lucky_Ride_by_Terry_Tierney.html
You can check out other fiction samples and recent short story publications here: Short Stories